David Franchi – Saturday, 18th April 2015.

The Fountain, Villa Torlonia, Frascati, Italy, 1907 © Art Institute of Chicago

The Fountain, Villa Torlonia, Frascati, Italy, 1907 © Art Institute of Chicago

The Sargent exhibition is startling, at theNational Portrait GalleryLondon. For the first time, the National Portrait Gallery exhibition brings together inLondon, a collection of Sargent warm and familiar portraits of his extraordinary circle of friends, such as Robert Louis Stevenson, Claude Monet and Auguste Rodin.

“Sargent: Portraits of Artists and Friends” is a major exhibition about works by one of the world’s most celebrated portrait painters. It follows the artist time in Paris, London, Boston and New York as well as his travels in the Italian and English countryside.

The National Portrait Gallery exhibition brings to London some rarely displayed works. Notable loans are coming from galleries and private collections in Europe and America, including Musée Rodin, the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Musée d’Orsay, the Art Institute of Chicago and the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.

John Singer Sargent was born in Firenze (Italy) on 12th January 1856 from American parents, who moved to Europe from Philadelphia (USA) two years before. Sargent revealed an artistic talent since young age and in 1873 started to attend courses at the Accademia delle Belle Arti in Firenze.

The exhibition “Sargent: Portraits of Artists and Friends” tracks the artist life. The rooms, in fact, are grouped and named following the period s of the life of Sargent. At the National Portrait Gallery, the exhibition rooms from 1 to 4 are titled ‘Paris, 1874-1885’. In 1874 he moved to Paris, where he initially studied under the guidance of Carolus Duran, who introduced him to the Impressionist painting. In 1874, on the first attempt, Sargent passed the rigorous exam required to gain admission to the Académie des Beaux-Arts, the premier art school in France.

In 1876 Sargent made his first trip to the US. In 1878 he was accepted at the Salon for the first time and began to be

La Carmencita by John Singer Sargent, 1890 © Musée d'Orsay, Paris (R.F. 746)

La Carmencita by John Singer Sargent, 1890 © Musée d’Orsay, Paris (R.F. 746)

acknowledged by critics, and during the summer he went to Naples, then to Capri. There, he had the opportunity to know and appreciate the painting of Antonio Mancini, with whom an intense friendship and a fertile artistic exchange was established. In 1901, Mancini went to London on the advice of Sargent, who introduced him to the high English society, giving him important commissions for official portraits of personalities.

In 1879, Sargent went to Spain, where he was hit by the paintings of Diego Velázquez, and the Netherlands, in particular Frans Hals.

In 1884, Sargent returned to the Salon (Paris), but received so much criticism that he decided to move to England.

At “Sargent: Portraits of Artists and Friends” exhibition, the rooms 5 and 6 are named ‘Broadway, 1885-1889’. Sargent moved to London, where he met other painters and American writers, including Edwin Austin Abbey and Henry James, who had influence in building his mature style. It was at this time that he began his remarkable commercial success and his professional achievement: specializing mainly in portrait of psychological value.

In 1886 Sargent set up a studio in trendy Chelsea, London. In 1887 he returned for the second time in the United States, painting portraits and great cycles of murals in public buildings in Boston and New York. In 1889, he was awarded the Grand Prix at the Universal Exhibition in Paris and was appointed Knight of the Legion of Honour.

At the National Portrait Gallery exhibition, the room 7 is organized in two areas ‘Boston and New York, 1888- 1912’ and ‘London 1889 -1913’. Such as his parents, Sargent was a traveller who visited and worked in many places in his life.

In 1894 he was appointed associate at the Royal Academy in London, and in 1897 he became a full member.

In the 1880s Sargent regularly exhibited portraits at the Salon (Paris) mostly full-length of women. He continued to receive positive critical notice, as his best portraits reveal the individuality and personality of the sitters.

Carolus-Duran by John Singer Sargent, 1879 © Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, USA (photo by Michael Agee)

Carolus Duran by John Singer Sargent, 1879 © Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, USA (photo by Michael Agee)

In this room there is an interesting series of sketching that reveals his mastery in the medium. Also Sargent produced more than 2,000 watercolours in his career, some of them on display at the “Sargent: Portraits of Artists and Friends” exhibition.

The last room 8, ‘Europe, 1899 -1914’, is focused on the period Sargent was travelling in the continent. Works on display are mostly landscapes. In 1907, in fact, he announced he abandoned portraiture in favour of landscapes, exotic people, and watercolours – but he never really did it.

During the First World War he was sent by England to the front lines in France, where he worked as an official war artist to cover the horrors of modern warfare. In 1922, Sargent co-founded New York City’s Grand Central Art Galleries together with other artists.

He then returned to England, where he died on 14th April 1925 of heart disease. Sargent is interred in Brookwood Cemetery near Woking, Surrey.

Sargent always had alternate fortune with critics, but nowadays he is considered a master, and his works recently auctioned millions of US dollars.

Key exhibits include the only two surviving portraits Sargent painted of his friend and novelist Robert Louis Stevenson, which are displayed together for the first time since they were painted in the 1880s. Also reunited in the exhibition are Sargent’s portraits of the Pailleron family. The bohemian writer Édouard Pailleron and his wife were among Sargent’s earliest French patrons, to whom the young artist owed much of his early success. Their individual portraits are displayed alongside Sargent’s portrait of their children, Édouard and Marie-Louise, for the first time in over a century.

Other exhibition highlights include Sargent’s important portrait of his master Carolus Duran (1879), which played a

Robert Louis Stevenson by John Singer Sargent, 1887 © Courtesy of the Taft Museum of Art, Cincinnati, Ohio

Robert Louis Stevenson by John Singer Sargent, 1887 © Courtesy of the Taft Museum of Art, Cincinnati, Ohio

pivotal role in the development of his career after it was praised in the 1879 Paris Salon; his charcoal drawing of the celebrated poet William Butler Yeats (1908); and three of his greatest theatrical portraits painted between 1889 and 1890: Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth, Edwin Booth and La Carmencita, the wild Spanish dancer.

Sargent: Portraits of Artists and Friends is organised in collaboration with The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, to which it will tour in June 2015. Richard Ormond CBE has curated the exhibition with advice from H. Barbara Weinberg, the Metropolitan Museum’s Curator Emerita of American Paintings and Sculpture and a Sargent scholar. It is curated in New York by Elizabeth Kornhauser, the Alice Pratt Brown Curator of American Paintings and Sculpture, and Stephanie Herdrich, Research Associate, both of The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s American Wing. The curator in London is Dr Peter Funnell, Curator of 19thCentury Portraits and Head of Research Programmes at the National Portrait Gallery.

Sponsored by Close Brothers, “Sargent: Portraits of Artists and Friends” was made possible through support from the Terra Foundation for American Art. It is supported by the Blavatnik Family Foundation, and by the American Friends of the National Portrait Gallery, London, and the Sargent Exhibition Supporters Group.

The exhibition “Sargent: Portraits of Artists and Friends” will be open from 12th February until 25th May 2015, at the National Portrait Gallery, Trafalgar Square, London.


David Franchi – Saturday, 11th April 2015.

It is an attractive exhibition “Pangaea II” at the Saatchi Gallery in London.

Pangaea II exhibition, Saatchi Gallery, London.

Pangaea II exhibition © Saatchi Gallery, London.

The exhibition “Pangaea II: New Art from Africa and Latin America” displays the work of 19 emerging artists. It gives a contemporary, updated and extensive feedback of the production the artists, which have been made in the difficulty of their own homelands.

The exhibition “Pangaea II: New Art from Africa and Latin America” is for the Saatchi Gallery the second chapter of a search on the two former sister continents.

In paleogeography, Pangea, or Pangaea, (from the ancient Greek ‘everything’, and, ‘earth’, that ‘the whole earth’) was the supercontinent that is believed to include all the land mass of the Earth during the Palaeozoic and the first Mesozoic.

The name ‘Pangea’ was given in 1915 by Alfred Wegener, following the formulation of the theory of Continental Drift. The continents forming Pangaea get divided about 180 million years ago, due to the process of plate tectonics, resulting in two supercontinents: Laurasia (northern supercontinent) and Gondwana (southern supercontinent).

Including sculpture, painting, installation and photography, “Pangaea II: New Art from Africa and Latin America” is focused on the diverse cultural influences and thriving creative practices in the two great continents – once conjoined as the prehistoric landmass of Pangaea.

Of the two distinctive regions, these artists are witnesses to the transformation of the societies they live. These areas are more and more organised around the big cities which are experiencing massive alterations at a speed never seen before. For their work, they use a hybrid of both traditional and contemporary techniques and materials, mirroring the social and political issues faced in this moment of fast urban and economic development.

The artists feature different levels; some still need to refine their expressive dimension. However, some of the 19 displayed artists show remarkable potential. For example, Jean – François Boclè with his ‘Tout doit disparaitre / Everything must go’ (2014), an installation made of 97.000 blue plastic bags filling the entire first room of the Saatchi Gallery. Diego Mendoza Imbachi presents large canvasses of graphite and binder ‘The Poetic of Reflection’ (2014) inspired by Chinese/ Japanese printings. A bit scaring, but out of the ordinary, is the series of woodcut and mixed media of Efrem Solomon. A fascinating use of colours have the more figurative portraits – of people from the back – by Dawit Abebe, and also the ones of Boris Nzebo, together with abstract paintings of Alejandor Ospina.

“Pangaea: New Art From Africa and Latin America” also features work by Aboudia, Eduardo Berliner, Armand Boua, Pia Camil, Alida Cervantes, Virginia Chihota, Alexandre da Cunha, Federico Herrero, Eddy Ilunga Kamuanga, Hamid El Kanbouhi, Jorge Mayet, Ibrahim Mahama, and Mikhael Subotzky.

The exhibition “Pangaea II: New Art from Africa and Latin America” is at the Saatchi Gallery, King’s Road, London, from 11th March until 6th September 2015.


David Franchi – Saturday, 28th March 2015.

The Plumb-pudding in Danger, 1805, James Gillray (1756 - 1815), London, Hand-coloured etching on paper © The Trustees of the British Museum

The Plumb-pudding in Danger, 1805, James Gillray (1756 – 1815), London, Hand-coloured etching on paper © The Trustees of the British Museum

The exhibition “Bonaparte and the British” is worthy of note, at The British Museum, London. The show explores the printed propaganda that either unloved or glorified Napoleon Bonaparte at the turn of the 19th century.

The current year commemorates the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo. Many are the events ongoing in Europe. Recent is the polemic about Belgian proposal to mint of a €2 coin to honour the victory over Napoleon, but it has been withdrawn after French objections.

Waterloo was the final defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte, the French general and emperor born in Corsica, but of Italian origins. For 15 years, Napoleon has been THE republican enemy, while he attempted to subvert the monarchic status of the other European states.

From a noble family, Napoleon was born in Ajaccio, in Corsica, on 15th August 1769, just a year after the transfer of the island from the Republic of Genoa to France – for compensation of debts. Thanks to his noble origins, Bonaparte was admitted to the best French military academies, at Brienne-le-Château and then to the elite Ecole Militaire in Paris. At the young age of 16, he was already commissioned as a second lieutenant.

Bonaparte always spoke with a marked Corsican accent and never learned to spell French properly. At school, he was teased by other students for his accent. He initially did not consider himself French. He felt uncomfortable in an environment where his classmates were mostly from the ranks of the highest French aristocracy, and they took him cruelly joking around his name as “le paille au nez = straw for the nose”. The accusation of being a foreigner would haunt him for life.

The young Napoleon kept secretly detesting France and the French. He cultivated the cause of the independence of Corsica, as witnessed significantly from a paper of 1787.

At the outbreak of the revolution in 1789, Napoleon was in his twenties and now official of King Louis XVI. He was

The Gallant Nelson Bringing Home Two Uncommon Fierce French Crocodiles, 1798, Isaac Cruikshank (1764 - 1811), London, Hand-coloured etching on paper © The Trustees of the British Museum

The Gallant Nelson Bringing Home Two Uncommon Fierce French Crocodiles, 1798, Isaac Cruikshank (1764 – 1811), London, Hand-coloured etching on paper © The Trustees of the British Museum

able to obtain a long license, went to Corsica, and joined the revolutionary movement. For his constant trips to the island, he risked to be considered a deserter and so returned to Paris. Despite exceeding his leave of absence and leading a riot against the French army in Corsica, he was promoted to captain in the regular army in July 1792.

Meanwhile in Corsica the civil war erupted (1793). Already in 1792, Pasquale Paoli, the Corsican national hero of independence, had returned concerned about the revolutionary excesses of the ‘Terror’. In 1793, Paoli took distance himself from Paris, and appealed directly to the entire population of Corsica to defend their homeland.

The Bonaparte family chose the French cause, despite having supported Paoli at the time of the revolts against Genoa and then against the Armies of Louis XV.

Napoleon commanded an attack to the island of La Maddalena against the Corsican rioters but it failed. The Bonaparte family had to flee to the French mainland.

There, Napoleon organized the siege of Toulon and some military actions against the monarchists and the English in South France that brought him under the spotlights. However, he was suspected of treachery and house arrested in Nice, but was almost immediately freed thanks to his friendship with the Robespierre family and Paul Barras. The latter, on 13th Vendemiaire (5th October 1795) appointed him, suddenly, commander of the square of Paris, with the task of saving the National Convention from the threat of the monarchists.

At this point of his life starts the rise of Napoleon. The exhibition “Bonaparte and the British: prints and propaganda in the age of Napoleon” explores how his impressive career corresponded to the acme of political satire as an art form on bothBritish and French.

The British Museum exhibition is about caricatures. In the UK there were people who supported Napoleon. He was considered a hero and people collected memorabilia.

The exhibition “Bonaparte and the British” is divided in four areas, which are following the life and success of Napoleon. The first area, ‘General to Consul (1796 – 1799)’, is focused on the initial period of the rise to the power of Napoleon, the campaigns in Italy, Egypt and Syria, the Consulate, and the First Coalition of monarchic states against the French republicans.

Maniac Ravings, 1803 James Gillray (1756 - 1815), London, Hand-coloured etching on paper © The Trustees of the British Museum

Maniac Ravings, 1803 James Gillray (1756 – 1815), London, Hand-coloured etching on paper © The Trustees of the British Museum

The second room, ‘Peace, War and Empire (1800-1804)’, considers the beginning of the French Empire, the peace treaties signed with Britain and the Second Coalition, the defeat of Bonaparte internal enemies. In December 1804, Napoleon is crowned Emperor of the French.

The third room is ‘Triumph and disaster. Trafalgar, Austerlitz, Spain and Russia (1805 – 1813)’. Napoleon is crowned King of Italy in 1805, but in the same year he is defeated at the Battle of Trafalgar by the British Royal Navy, commanded by the Admiral Nelson. However, few months later the Third Coalition (Britain, Russia and Austria) with the Battle of Austerlitz is totally destroyed by the French.

In 1806, Napoleon entered in Berlin bringing to an end to the Fourth Coalition (Britain, Prussia, Russian Empire, Sweden, and Kingdom of Sicily) and later the same year he invaded Poland. Britain is repeatedly defeated: in Turkey- French ally against Russia- in Egypt, in Persia, and in South America by the Spanish army. In 1808,Napoleon, unsure about his allies, invaded Spain and Portugal.

In 1810, Europe was finally redesigned according to the will of Napoleon. The territories under direct French control had expanded well beyond the traditional boundaries of pre-1789. The rest of the European states were a French satellite or its ally. However, Russia was not a reliable ally and Napoleon decided to move war in 1812: his first false step. The Russian war was a total disaster and the French are completely defeated during the battle of Leipzig (1813).

The fourth room is “Defeat, exile, transformation: Elba, Waterloo, St. Helena (1814-1815)”. The Sixth Coalition is formed by Russia and joined army of Austria, Prussia and Sweden. It expelled the French army from Germany. Napoleon returned hastily to Paris. He had to experience now the insubordination of all political bodies: the Chambers denounced only now his tyranny, the new nobility created by him turned away, the people tired of war remained cold, the marshals of Empire began to defect.

The allied enemies entered victorious in Paris on 31st March 1814, headed by Tsar Alexander I. Napoleon suffered the tragedy of flight when, through southern France, was forced to wear an Austrian uniform to avoid ending lynched by the crowd. Hastily he embarked at Marseilles on the British frigate HMS Undaunted and, on 4th May 1814, he landed on the island of Elba, where the enemy had decided to exile him, while acknowledging the sovereignty of the island with the rank of prince and retaining the title of emperor.

Napoleon escaped from Elba, on 26th February 1815, with a fleet of seven ships and about a thousand men in tow. The Emperor evaded the surveillance of the English fleet, and on 1st March 1815 landed in France: it is the beginning of the legendary Hundred Days. The people welcomed Napoleon with a surprising enthusiasm and armies sent against him by Luigi of Borbone (the new, but hated, King of France), instead of stopping, joined him.

Quickly reorganized the army, Napoleon proposed the peace to enemies, reunited again in the Seventh Coalition, on the sole condition of maintaining the throne of France, but he was unheard.

To avoid a new invasion of France, Napoleon made the first move coming by surprise in Belgium, where the British and the Prussian armies were deployed. However on 18th June 1815, it is the day of the battle of Waterloo. Napoleon was definitely defeated by the army of teh Seventh Coalition, commanded by the Duke of Wellington.

Cast of the Death Mask of Napoleon, 1830s , Plaster of Paris © The Trustees of the British Museum

Cast of the Death Mask of Napoleon, 1830s , Plaster of Paris © The Trustees of the British Museum

After a long series of twisting situations, Napoleon was finally exiled in the island of St. Helena, in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, where after few years he died, on 5th May 1821.

The exhibition “Bonaparte and the British” describes the complete rise and fall of Napoleon by using caricatures. At that time these satirical drawings had different prices and some of them were relatively expensive.

Many of works on show at the British Museum are very blunt: the English satire was known for its ferocious approach. They disparagingly called Napoleon, ‘the Corsican’ or ‘Little Boney’, and used the character of John Bull – symbolising the average Englishman – to insult and deride the French Emperor.

English caricaturists, especially the ones in London, were famous. The freedom of speech allowed producing very very rude caricatures, almost blasphemous, that were not possible to be seen in other countries. However, this aggressive propaganda was tempered by the admiration for Napoleon military and administrative talents.

The British Museum exhibition concentrates on works by British satirists who were inspired by political and military tensions to exploit a new visual language, combining caricature and traditional satire with the vigorous narrative introduced by Hogarth earlier in the century.

The works from the British Museum’s own collection are supported by loans from generous lenders such as Sir John Soane’s Museum, the Wellington Collection at Apsley House and others preferring to stay anonymous.

The exhibition begins with portraits of the handsome young general from the mid-1790s and ends with a cast of his death mask and other memorabilia acquired by British admirers. Along the way, the prints examine key moments in the British response to Napoleon – exultation at Nelson’s triumph in the Battle of the Nile in 1798, celebration of the Peace of Amiens in 1802, fear of invasion in 1803, the death of Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar (1805), Napoleon’s victory at Austerlitz, and happiness at his military defeats from 1812 onwards concluded with his exile to Elba in 1814. The triumphalism after Waterloo and final exile to St Helena (1815), were clouded by doubts about the restoration of the French king Louis XVIII, here reflected by some prints.

Eleven watercolours of the battlefield of Waterloo from a private collection, including three long panoramas, are displayed publicly for the first time. These are the earliest known studies of the battlefield made only two or three days after the fighting concluded.

Through the propagandistic use of versatile medium of caricatures, this exhibition looks at one of the most fundamental period of Europe. Political and social history aspects are illustrated, such as the dichotomy between the Republic of France and the monarchist European countries, where the powerful figure of Napoleon is the catalyst for innovation.

The exhibition “Bonaparte and the British: prints and propaganda in the age of Napoleon” is at The British Museum, Russell Square, London, from 5th February until 16th August 2015.


David Burlak – Monday, 9th March 2015.

Barkcloth wedding dress by Samoan designer Paula Chan Cheuk, New Zealand, 2014, commissioned with support from the New Zealand Society UK and private donors © The Trustees of the British Museum

Barkcloth wedding dress by Samoan designer Paula Chan Cheuk, New Zealand, 2014, commissioned with support from the New Zealand Society UK and private donors © The Trustees of the British Museum

An out of the ordinary exhibition, “Shifting patterns: Pacific barkcloth clothing” is at the British Museum, London.

This small exhibition is focused on barkcloth, a material of many different usages. The barkcloth use is dated at least 5,000years ago in the islands of the Pacific.

Cloth made from the inner bark of trees is a distinctive art tradition. Barkcloth and plaited leaf fabrics were the two principal textiles people produced in the tropical island environments of the Pacific, where there were few land animals to provide fur or wool.

Probably introduced to the Pacific region by the first human settlers, barkcloth is made from particular trees – predominantly paper mulberry. Bark is the outermost layers of stems and roots of woody plants, such as trees, woody vines, and shrubs. Bark is a nontechnical term referring to all the tissues outside of the vascular cambium of the plant. It overlays the wood and it consists of the inner bark and the outer bark.

The inner bark includes the innermost area of the periderm. The basic techniques of making barkcloth are the same right across the Pacific. Once removed from the tree, the inner bark is separated. It is repeatedly soaked, scraped beaten to produce a cloth of the desired thickness and softness. The way you beat and the time you do it determines the quality of the material.

“Shifting patterns: Pacific barkcloth clothing” exhibition is dedicated to clothing and adornment made from barkcloth,

Barkcloth dance skirt, pā’ū, by Dalani Tanahy, O’ahu, Hawaiian Islands, 2014 © The Trustees of the British Museum, Courtesy of the artist

Barkcloth dance skirt, pā’ū, by Dalani Tanahy, O’ahu, Hawaiian Islands, 2014 © The Trustees of the British Museum, Courtesy of the artist

displaying a range of garments, headdresses, masks and body ornaments. Present in the region from New Guinea in the west to Rapa Nui (Easter Island) in the east, barkcloth is made in numerous styles and designs, reflecting the distinct histories of each island group and the originality of the producers.

This is the first British Museum exhibition focussing on barkcloth. It exhibits seventy-seven objects from the museum’s extensive Oceania collection of almost nine hundred items. Barkcloth must be carefully prepared for display, and many hours of conservation using the British Museum’s new World Conservation and Exhibitions Centre have been invested in the pieces exhibited. The exhibition includes works from the late 1700s collected during British voyages of exploration to the Pacific Ocean through to garments nowadays produced.

Barkcloth garments, wrappings and adornment can be worn as everyday items and on ceremonial occasions, including those linked to key life cycle events such as weddings and funerals.

There is extraordinary diversity between barkcloth made in the different island groups of the Pacific. Some are plain, while others have textural or applied patterns, which can be painted, dyed and stencilled onto the cloth.

The British Museum exhibition also examines the different changes of the form and importance of barkcloth clothing through time. Following the impact of missionaries, Pacific Islanders adopted new forms of clothing as a sign of conversion to Christianity. Therefore, from the beginning of 1800s new ideas inspired an explosion of innovative decorative devices.

Oc,HAW.19 Barkcloth, kua’ula, Hawaiian Islands, Eastern Polynesia, late 18th Century © The Trustees of the British Museum

Oc,HAW.19, Barkcloth, kua’ula, Hawaiian Islands, Eastern Polynesia, late 18th Century © The Trustees of the British Museum

Another important change was the introduction of machine made cloth into the Pacific which led to a decline in barkcloth-making in some places.

However, the tradition continues in other places and new developments have also come out. For example, many artists from Pacific Islands moved to urban centres such as Auckland (New Zealand) following an exodus from their communities. Those artists integrated barkcloth into high fashion designs which take both western and indigenous clothing styles as inspiration. In the Hawaii, instead, in 2011, a leading hula group performed for the first time in dance costumes made from kapa. This challenged kapa makers to produce cloth that was flexible and durable enough for these vigorous performances.

This exhibition gives a new perspective about the barkcloth and its employ. It is a material not used outside of the Pacific area, and it might be of inspiration for fashion stylist, even architects, or similar.

“Shifting patterns: Pacific barkcloth clothing” is at the British Museum from 5th February until 16th August 2015, Bloomsbury, London.